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IUPUI’s bottle cap collection initiative helps kids, spreads awareness about recycling

Sept. 28, 2016

How many pounds of plastic bottle caps does it take to make an 8-foot picnic table? The answer is 800 pounds, according to Jessica Davis. The director of the Office of Sustainability has overseen Bottle Caps for School Benches, a campus-wide effort to collect the plastic caps in an effort to help the community.

picnic table

Kids from the Center for Young Children enjoy their new kid-sized picnic table made of bottle caps collected through IUPUI's Office of Sustainability. | PHOTO COURTESY OF IUPUI AUXILIARY SERVICES

“It was a big surprise to find out just how much office space nearly 900 pounds of bottle caps takes up. It’s been nice to have our office back,” Davis said. 

All those caps that no longer sit in Davis’ office were formed into a kid-size picnic table that now sits on the playground of the Center for Young Children, the early childhood center on the IUPUI campus.

“The kids were very excited to see a new picnic bench that was small enough for them to sit at and enjoy,” said Katie Snarski, assistant director of the Center for Young Children.

Before the bottle cap table, the 200 kids enrolled at the center had only had adult-sized picnic tables, and they’ve already broken in the new table with dirt and toys.

The kids also participated in collecting the caps, along with IUPUI’s students, staff and faculty.

“Teachers had made it a point to talk to the kids about recycling,” Snarski said. “Every morning a handful of parents and kids would walk in with bags full of lids and caps and put them into the collection bin. It has really become a routine for some families, which is why we will continue to collect the caps in an effort to ‘pay it forward’ to the next beneficiary. The act of collecting and recycling was just as fun as receiving the picnic table.”

The Bottle Caps for School Benches program started in the spring of 2015 to help gather enough caps to melt down and turned into benches for local schools. 

The Office of Sustainability partnered with the 2015 NCAA's Men's Final Four Sustainability Committee, and the Student Sustainability Council of IUPUI during the first year of the program. It was so successful, they’ve moved on from making benches to tables.

“It’s been wonderful to see the Bottle Caps for School Benches program grow from a one-off project in collaboration with the NCAA to something that our campus has taken ownership of and embraced,” Davis said.

When IUPUI got involved in the program, Davis was surprised to see how attached people became to the effort.

“I think that because bottle caps are a tangible product people interact with regularly, it was easy for folks to see them accumulate in their offices and dorms and know they were being collected for a good cause,” she said.

Just like the kids at the center who talked with their teachers about recycling, the cap collection efforts have raise awareness about reusing plastic among students, faculty and staff at IUPUI.

“A wonderful side effect of this program is that it also makes people think about recycling in general and become more aware of their waste and how to dispose of it properly,” Davis said. “I hope that the project continues to grow, especially in areas of campus that haven’t been participating as actively.”

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